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Guide To The Tighten Up Jam
The Tighten Up was a jam that the Dead played in 69, 70, and once in 71. Similar to the Feelin' Groovy jam, it often appeared in Dark Star. However, the Tighten Up also appeared in just as many, if not more, Dancing In The Streets'. Many people have noted the similarity between this jam and Eyes of the World, calling it a "proto-Eyes jam." I think this is mostly due to the similar rhythmic chords in both of the tunes despite the different keys. The Tighten Up jam got its name from the Archie Bell and the Drell's song, Tighten Up. The rhythm guitar in the Archie Bell song is quite similar to Bob's chords. It seems that Bob first played these chords on 8/30/69. While the chords from both the Tighten Up song and jam are similar, many have considered other songs to be the Dead's inspiration.
One of these songs is Beginnings by The Chicago Transit Authority. Chicago Transit Authority's eponymous album was released in 1968 and included Beginnings. The Dead also jammed with Terry Kath on at least one known occasion. William Tell testified that Deadheads were certainly aware of Chicago early on and listened to them. This makes it pretty obvious to me that the Dead had most likely heard this Chicago record.
Another possible source of inspiration, as pointed out by Light Into Ashes, could have been Soulful Strut by Young-Holt Unlimited. This record was also released in 1968, plenty of time for the Dead to have heard this record by the time they began doing Tighten Up and Feelin' Groovy Jams. The piano melody actually sounds a bit like Jerry's solo and the chords are quite similar as well. None of these songs really have the exact same chords or even the exact same rhythm as the Dead's "Tighten Up" jam.
There is a specific melody that Jerry usually plays during the Tighten Up jam but I think it's inspiration is in jazz and not one of these other tunes. Some think it sounds a bit like First There Is A Mountain but I am not convinced. To me his solo sounds a lot like jazz scat singing, only using a guitar. Sure this has to do with both of their improvisatory natures but it really sounds like Jerry tries to make his guitar sing in these jams. Many have noted the jazzy sound of the Tighten Up jam. Dr. Flashback describes the Tighten Up from 11/2/69 as, "a fast 2 chord jazz riff that REALLY sounds a lot like Eyes of the World."
Perhaps the song most similar to this jam is a song from Bob Weir's band, Kingfish, called Hypnotize. The Dead's Tighten Up could have been easily been influenced by any number of songs. Also likely is the Dead developed it on their own, after all it's basically just two chords, and Deadheads have basically just given it a name. When asked about the Mind Left Body jam, Phil was emphatic that it was just four chords, not some attempt to recreate the original song. I would imagine we would get a similar answer about the Tighten Up, "it's just two chords, man."
Regardless of the jam's origin it is a truly thrilling thing to listen to. If you are one who thinks that the Tighten Up sounds a lot like Eyes, it almost seems like the jam found a home in Eyes of the World even though they stopped playing the jam. Similar to the Feelin' Groovy, they no longer played it in Dark Star after 1972 but it found a home between China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider. If this hypothesis is correct it is a pretty fascinating look into the Dead's songwriting. A few chords could appear one day and just keep growing until is was a full song.
One thing that I have noticed is people are always talking about which song the Tighten Up Jam was inspired by and I have never heard anyone talk about what inspired the Tighten Up song. Archie Bell's song is derivative in almost every way of King Curtis' song "Memphis Soul Stew." The way the song starts with a simple bass line and slowly instruments are added are the same in both songs. In both songs the singer chooses to speak to the band and the audience instead of singing an actual song. Also "Memphis Soul Stew" seems to have a similar rhythmic guitar part as Tighten Up. Someone with more music knowledge would be able to speak to the actual similarities in the songs. Looking through the songs on King Curtis' albums it is clear that he was inspired by many of the same songs that the Dead were including Beatles songs, old blues like CC Rider, Otis Redding, the Band, and others. Also, King Curtis actually played at the Fillmore West on March 5, 6, and 7th in 1971. Dead.net says that the Dead played a benefit at the Fillmore West on the night of the 5th. To me, this band is a lot like Jr. Walker and the Allstars. Some of King Curtis' stuff is the typical, overproduced Motown sound complete with corny strings. But some of his other stuff is raw and powerful jazz funk much like Jr. Walker. You can tell both sax players were inspired by similar musicians from their honking R&B style. The Fillmore West recordings of King Curtis reveal a very tight band that knew how to command an audience. Listening to this show, it's like King Curtis understood the San Francisco music scene and the emphasis on the groove and the vibes rather than the perfect production. During the song "I Stand Accused," the crowd can't get enough of King Curtis' sax and King Curtis urges the audience to help the band "set this groove." It seems to me like the Dead could have easily been inspired by King Curtis with their Tighten Up jam just as much as the writers of the Tighten Up song. The Dead and King Curtis are certainly similar in that a concert was a group experience. One could look at bands like the Dead and Chicago as a bunch of white guys trying their best to play R&B. So perhaps both the song "Beginnings" and the Tighten Up jam are nods to R&B which definitely set the stage for rock and roll and the genres that each band basically invented, the Dead and jam band music and Chicago with their "rock with horns."
A pretty harsh, but somewhat amusing, non-Deadhead's take on the Tighten Up jam can be found here, http://www.barelybrothersrecords.com/1204/covering-the-tighten-up-a-survey-by-brother-tad/. The page is devoted to the Archie Bell song and all of the covers of the song. I am pretty impressed the Dead were even considered on this list because I don't think they ever actually acknowledged the song Tighten Up as an inspiration. The description reads,
"Tighten Up Jam. In the late 60s, the Grateful Dead played what Dead-heads refer to as the 'Tighten Up Jam' as a lead-in to the psychedelic tour-de-force “Dark Star.” This jam has apparently never been commercially released, but it can be found among the legions of recordings of live Dead shows found on the internet. The couple of versions to which I have listened consist of a two-chord vamp that sounds vaguely like it might have been derived from 'Tighten Up.' The connection no doubt becomes clearer with the aid of cannabis and magic mushrooms. This is pretty much for lovers of the Dead, not lovers of 'Tighten Up.'"
This post is wrong on a couple of levels. First off, the Tighten Up Jam has been released commercially several times. Dick's Picks 2 comes to mind as does Dick's Picks 8. I also think it's a bit unfair to discredit what the Dead did. I think if anyone listens to Dark Star from 10/31/71 they could at least be impressed by the incredible and unique sound a "mere" rock band could achieve. People who are unfamiliar with the Dead's music always mention the connection between the music and drugs. As if drugs are a key to understanding the Grateful Dead's music. I think in the right setting drugs could certainly enhance an appreciation for the Dead's music. But I think it's unfair to not give the Dead's music a chance because you don't agree with drugs, two things that are completely separate from each other.
Anyways, as lovers of the Dead I hope you find the collection of Tighten Up Jams to be informative and entertaining. I hope it inspires someone to give a Tighten Up jam a listen.
This is considered to be the first Tighten Up Jam. It occurs after Jerry breaks a string at 20:00. To fill the void Weir begins strumming the TU chords around 20:30. I have suggested before that this could have been a sort of musical dialogue between Bob and Jerry with Bob saying, "Hey Jerry tighten up those strings!" similar to how Archie Bell coaxed all of his band members in the song. They start to come together again a little after 22 minnutes. It definitely seems like Garcia saw this as a nice, easy two chord jazz shuffle that was perfect for a little solo. This first Tighten Up eventually fizzles out and they head to the Dark Star theme.
12:30-15:00 (Feelin' Groovy)
15:00-17:30 (Tighten Up)
This Dark Star has sort of fledgling Feelin' Groovy and Tighten Up jams. Really neither one is fully developed but Jerry pulls off some very sweet licks. Jerry's transition from the Feelin' Groovy to the Tighten Up at 15:00 minutes is amazing.
17:30-22:20 (Feelin' Groovy)
22:20-25:00 (Tighten Up)
Another one of the times the Tighten Up and Feelin' Groovy were played back to back. This is a beautiful example of each of these themes. See 1/2/70 for this Dark Star's big brother. Thekind78 said about this Dark Star, "I gotta say of all the available Feelin' Groovy and Tighten Up jams the one from 11/02/69 at the Family Dog has Jerry playing ever so sweet. Just so soulful. I don't know if any other date has that kind of depth to the playing." I couldn't agree more.
16:30-17:30 (Feelin' Groovy)
17:30-20:00 (Tighten Up)
As I am listening to these Dark Stars again I am being reminded how often Feelin' Groovy and Tighten Up were juxtaposed. The jams really seem to develop simultaneously. In my other post about the Feelin' Groovy I describe this whole Dark Star jam as such. However, it is pretty clear that the second half is a Tighten Up.
18:45-22:45 (Feelin' Groovy)
22:45-28:00 (Tighten Up)
The Tighten Up begins seemingly out of thin air directly after the Feelin' Groovy winds down.
This Dancing is from a pretty poor sounding recording which makes it difficult to get an accurate timing for the Tighten Up. You can still hear the excitement in the jam despite the sound quality.
This Tighten Up is from the famous Ken & Judy Lee recording. We are so lucky that people, like the Lee's, had the foresight to record these monumental shows. They go into a short Tighten Up jam but this is a notable Dancing for being particularly jammed out at just about 18 minutes long.
Another Tighten Up from a Dancing In The Streets. I find these Dancing versions to be a little more predictable than the ones offered in Dark Stars. I would also find Dancing to be a bit boring without a Tighten Up jam tearing through the middle of it. This one hits a great peak at 7:30 and segues seamlessly into Dancing.
This Tighten Up can be found on Fallout From the Phil Zone. This jam ends with some very Feelin' Groovy-esque notes and chords from Phil and Bob.
I particularly like Weir's chords that initiate this Tighten Up. Then when Jerry comes in he's fingerpicking along this fun chords quickly. This is a very exuberant example of a Tighten Up. Check out Jerry at 6:30. Also this Dancing might have convinced me to like Mickey more. Something about the bit around 8 minutes where it seems like the whole band is actually syncopated really gets me.
This Tighten Up is sandwiched in between a couple of Feelin' Groovy jams. The sound quality isn't great on this audience recording but the quality of Dark Star certainly is.
From one of the best shows the Dead ever played, this Dancing has been captured on Dick's Picks 8. Starting at 8 minutes we hear a very typical Tighten Up solo from Jerry. This is a great example of the solo that seemed to be repeated from Tighten Up to Tighten Up.
There are some issues with the sound quality and since a lot of these Dancing's and Tighten Up jams are fairly similar I would pick one with a better recording to listen to. But if you are someone used to audience recordings, Jerry's solo here is particularly sweet. I like how he plays the notes in the solo a bit more staccatto around 12 minutes.
The sound quality of this recording is "unbearable" and "horrifyingly bad" and "recorded from a mic encased within a tin can" according to a couple reviews. However, you can tell that this was an incredible, intense Dark Star. I can hardly imagine what Jerry's licks from 14:00-14:30 would sound like if we had a nice recording. The timing of this Tighten Up is difficult to pinpoint but I recommend giving this a listen if you are at all curious. You will be rewarded for forgiving ears and a little imagination! This Dark Star>Dancing is certainly a highlight of 1970.
This Dark Star is from the Dead's first show overseas. I think we can infer that they were going to try and make a statement for this monumental show. The timing from the Tighten Up page here (http://web.archive.org/web/20030825202854/www.stellarjay.net/timle/tighten_up_jam.htm) is way off. It claims that the Tighten Up starts at 3:30. However, to my ears it is very obvious that the Tighten Up starts well after the first verse and then after a portion of space. The Dead complained about poor playing during this show but people remember this Dark Star fondly. I could see why many people left this show mesmerized by the Dead after listening to this Star. Listen for the slight Dancing tease at the end of the jam before they start the Dark Star theme again.
This is a very energetic Dancing and a smoking Tighten Up. Jerry's solo at 6:15 is absolutely stunning, what the hell is the melody he plays here?? This Dancing held my attention, I really like this one. The Tighten Up really dominates the majority of this one. They build to a really nice climax before going back into Dancing.
This is a famous Dark Star from an equally famous show at the Capitol Theater. The Tighten Up is at the end of the second Dark Star right before the transition into Sugar Mag.
I like this audience recording a lot. I love the yelling when the Tighten Up begins to take shape, I would be doing the exact same thing.
I like to think of this Dark Star as 9/19/70's brother. They are very similar but the one on 9/17 has a Tighten Up where the Feelin' Groovy is on 9/19. If you're a Tighten Up kinda guy this will probably be your preferred Star of the run. But, if you're a Feelin' Groovy kinda guy, 9/19 might be your favorite. It's interesting how highly I hold 9/19 but then the Dark Star Document (http://www.shallwego.net/deadlists/darkstar.htm) notes 9/17 as being one of the best and doesn't mention 9/19. Is that blasphemy or what William Tell? Different strokes I suppose... I will say the recording from 9/19 is considerably better sounding than the one from 9/17.
This is a pretty short and sweet Tighten Up jam. Nothing too special honestly.
This Tighten Up is somewhat hidden in the Download Series Family Dog at the Great Highway. The album cover says 2/4/70 but the Dancing In The Street is from this date.
Jerry hangs back as Phil and Weir clearly initiate this Tighten Up. Instead of really weaving around the theme Jerry just sort of enters awkwardly already doing the Tighten Up solo. The solo is better executed starting just before 9 minutes. I will say this jam is eventually redeemed but I wouldn't consider this one of my favorite Dancing's.
I definitely recommend checking this show out. Smokestack Lightning opener... enough said. Anyways about this Dancing, I really like the sound of the recording. Jerry has a great tone and Weir's guitar sounds nice and crisp. With that being said, Phil is a bit lower in the mix so you might want to boost the bass on your speakers. This is a quick Tighten Up. They segue back into Dancing quickly but they are on tonight so the Dancing jam is every bit as inspired as the Tighten Up.
This is an incredible sequence of songs starting with Truckin' then going into Dark Star. The Dark Star goes into a cool Main Ten jam (think of an almost Playin' jam), into a Dancing jam before a full blown Dancing In The Street. The Tighten Up jam is very energetic tonight which is no surprise as this is an excellent show altogether. Jerry's tone is incredible for the Tighten Up, it has that fabulous, slightly echo-y sound that is found in shows like 9/19/70. I kind of like the change to the audience source in the recording I'm listening to. It really seems like the crowd loved the Tighten Up jam and always greeted it with cheering.
My understanding is that this show has been mislabeled and the Dancing is actually from 10/5/70.
The final Tighten Up Jam can be found on Dick's Picks 2. Dick Latvala said of this jam, "This happens in '69 'Dark Stars,' about 16-18 minutes into it. The only thing it reminds me of is Donovan's song, 'First there is a mountain...' It's the most thrilling jam, on the level of 'Spanish Jam' or what DeadBase calls the 'Mind Left Body Jam.' Please, somebody in the world, name that jam better! I've heard it in many forms. It's similar to the transitions they used to do in 'China Cat > Rider' they used to do in late '73 and '74, and some 'Dancing in the Streets' in '70 had this theme. On this Halloween show, they do it, but it's a little bit different - it's a little jazzier. I don't know what to call it, but it's definitely a theme." I think we now know that the China>Rider transition is the Feelin' Groovy and the theme from Dancing is the Tighten Up. This Tighten Up from Dark Star may be the last but it certainly isn't the least inspired. I would say that this is the most jammed out and also one of the most exuberant Tighten Up jams they ever played. This jam is the reason I hold this Dark Star so highly on my list of favorites. The first time I heard this, I had just put it on in my car because I knew I had about a 30 minute long drive. Let's just say I nearly drove off the road when this jam began. It was the most thrilling and exciting things I had ever heard the Dead play.
I know I have missed some Tighten Up jams but I wanted to at least get this out there. Like my post about the Feelin' Groovy jam, I am simply trying to synthesize the information about these jams that I have read in several different places. All of the information here can be dug up on the internet but it is pretty dispersed. I also wanted to bring up the different theories on the Tighten Up jam's origin that I have read or considered. Light Into Ashes mentions on his site that there may be some Tighten Up jams in Lovelight but I don't have the patience to sift through the countless, and sometimes seemingly endless, renditions the Dead did. If anyone knows of any Tighten Up jams that have not been listen here please share them with me.